Thursday, June 6, 2013

BR: Wild Awake

by Hilary T. Smith

It’s funny because before I read this book, I was scouring goodreads for something I might like—and the reviews for Wild Awake were mixed; they were vague and unlike most reviews I’m used to. There was a healthy blend of three to five stars, and I was like “what are you going on about? Huh?”

Sadly, I am about to add to that collection.

Summary (goodreads)

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

My Expectations: not super high because the reviews on goodreads were mixed, but this one has been praised by a lot of bloggers I follow on twitter (shameless plug!)
Delivery: comme ci comme ca
Put-down-ability: 4/10, I knew I wanted to finish it to see what happens

My Thoughts

You’ve probably heard of Wild Awake. If you haven’t you’re probably like me and disconnected from the more modern YA news, or perhaps this is old news that I just was never informed about. The synopsis means to grab your attention (it works) but it also doesn’t nearly prepare you for the actual book. Kiri’s days are urgent, manic, and feel like the passed both too quickly and too slowly. She’s erratic and talkative, frenetically dedicated to piano, sleepless, high, and unusual. She’s unlike any protagonist I’ve read about, and it’s a double-edged sword.

On one hand, different is good. It’s a breath of fresh air surrounded by a cloud of worry for her antics and well-being. On the other hand, different also meant unrelatable and I can definitely see her character being a hit-or-miss. It’s obvious that Kiri’s going through some sort of episode kick-started by news about her sister’s death five years ago, whether it’s a nervous breakdown or monomania like her friend’s well-meaning mother thinks, or hypomania (see this definition). And I liked it, with reservations. Yeah. It’s one of those things, sorry.

I applaud the approach, I really do. It felt Smith stepped outside the boundaries of mainstream contemporary and fearlessly tackled a difficult topic of mental illness, but while I thought the representation of the character holds true, it made the novel, as a whole, very tangled, unfocussed, and frazzled. There’s not really a plot. There’s a lot of things mashed together, love, music, grief, and it lacked cohesion—yet I felt like this style was done on purpose. And regardless of the true intent or whatnot, I didn’t really love it. I was like “well, Kiri goes on another chaotic adventure, now what? Oh, she’s going to do it again? Okay. And again? Okay. What now? Where is this headed?”  And well, imagine that, throughout the entire book even up till the end where too many things are left unresolved.

I’ve talked about character a lot (very interesting), and the plot (too unfocused for my personal tastes), but what about the writing? It’s… both good and not my thing. Smith clearly has great control of language as her prose is littered with metaphors…. but her prose is littered with so many freaking metaphors. It feels over-written at many points, as if they decided to keep in every description and simile that they were proud of instead of striking out needless text that cluttered the prose. Yes, these metaphors are pretty and flowery, but they were also glaringly obvious and within the first 20 pages I couldn’t stop noticing them, and not in a good way.  That said, I really liked the way Smith embodied the show-not-tell, and well, being inside Kiri’s mind was definitely an experience.

There is an undeniable stigma attached to mental illness, but books like Wild Awake are a step in the right direction-- it shows us the tangled, complex, and imperfect nature of humans and life.

I haven't touched on a lot of things-- character relationships in particular, but I really just want to stop rambling. I liked most of them, though. Oh! And this book is set in Vancouver (HECK YES, CANADA!! THEY NOTICED US, FRIENDS!) which is awesome.

Rating in HP Terms: Acceptable
Recommended for: fans of contempory, unusual YA contemps
Acknowledgements: 2.5/5

8/10 – because I liked it but didn’t love it. It wasn’t a super-enjoyable read or a super-engrossing on, but it definitely piqued my interest and Kiri carried the book well. I was very curious to see what’d happen in the end (so that kept me reading) but I’ll admit the bratty side of me felt slightly cheated when I was done (but everyone’s free to their own artistic preferences). It’s a difficult book to review—those who have read it will probably say the same, and it’s also a difficult book to describe. However, I’d definitely say that if you’re looking for something that isn’t normally found inside the angsty YA contemporary genre (it’d fit great with A Tapestry of Word's Psychtember, tbh), give Wild Awake a shot.

source: library
author website / twitter


  1. I'm intrigued by this novel for the idea that it "stepped outside the boundaries of mainstream contemporary". I honestly had no idea this book had to do with mental illnesses, which makes me wonder if that was done deliberately? Because without any warning of the writing style, I can definitely see why it would be frazzling for the reader. As for the metaphors--was it Tahereh Mafi-esque?

    I think I'm going to check it out, just to see how different it is. :P

  2. Aww, thanks for the Psychtember shout-out! :D This book does sound really different. Neat that it tackles some form of mania, not only through characterization but also with the protagonist's voice/writing style. I can also see, though, how that could get frustrating for some readers. I think the lack of focus would get on my nerves as well - I tend to appreciate having some idea of where the plot is going in a story!

    Awesome that it has Vancouver as the setting, though. More books should do that :D

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  4. I've seen this book everywhere, even after a long book & blog hiatus, but this was the first time I ever read a review for it. I think it sounds fascinating. I can see what you mean by either being a hit or miss. I'm also interested in the mental illness aspect, so I think I may try Wild Awake out for fun. Great review btw.

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex


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